If you were looking for an English version of the Bible 400 years ago there was only one option available. Today there are a variety of Bible translations to choose from and the sheer number of translations can make the task seem daunting. Because the Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Greek, it needed to be translated into English to be accessible to the English-speaking world. Translation is not always a simple task, as idioms and colloquialisms in a language sometimes need to be paraphrased to make sense in another language. The most important things about a translation are that it retains the meaning of the original and that it is readable in the target language.
Approaches to Translation
There are three main approaches to translation and different versions adopt different approaches. The first approach is known as formal equivalence. This is the word for word approach and attempts to translate each word in the original text to an equivalent word in English (ie. KJV, RSV, NASB, ESV) are examples of this approach. The second approach is known as dynamic equivalence. This is the thought for thought approach and attempts to translate each thought or phrase into an equivalent thought in English (ie. NIV). The third approach is known as paraphrase. This is an interpretive approach and attempts to convey the message of a passage without following the original text too closely (ie. MSG, NLT, CEV).
A word for word translation allows the best access to the original text, without examining the text in its original language. This allows the readers to interpret the message in the passage for themselves, however, sometimes this makes these translations difficult to read. A phrase for phrase translation translations is often easier to read, but, if the translators misunderstood the point of the original phrase, could be misleading. A paraphrase translation is easy to read, but a poor choice for Bible study because there is always a danger that the interpretations of the translator are wrong and there is no way to find out if they are.
Choosing a Translation
Suffering from a case of so many translations but so little time? Consider the following simple guidelines when choosing a Bible translation…
What will your Bible primarily be used for?
Are you planning on doing an in-depth study of words or passages or do you want to read a passage every morning over breakfast? Word for word translations are by far the best for in-depth study, but phrase for phrase translations are better for morning or evening devotional readings.
Have you taken the time to examine several translations?
Take some time to compare a few different translations. One great free resource to help you with this is BibleGateway. This free internet resource allows you to look up passage in a wide variety of versions as well as compare several versions side by side. Try it out today!
Why choose just one?
Both word for word and phrase for phrase translation have difficulties and benefits associated with them. There is not one translation that is the best. If you are serious about studying the Bible, it is probably best to have at least one word for word translation and one (or more) phrase for phrase translations. This really helps because if you can’t understand the meaning in one translation you can obtain clarification from a second or third version.
The most important thing when selecting a Bible translation to use is finding one that doesn’t get in the way of the reading or studying that you want to do and then actually starting to read it!